As the Army heads for a settled future in the UK, military families are getting more involved in civilian life. A&Y investigates the benefits of creating connections with local communities…

DIPPING into the “real world” beyond the wire can seem pointless, writes Kate Viggers. If you’re posted for a year or two at most, why go to the effort of making civvy friends or joining local groups?

But as a result of rebasing – leading to growing stability and increased home ownership – more Army families are now in a position to build a life in their community.

For those already doing so, the benefits are clear.

Ex-Royal Signals Mel Amman has set up a Scout group in Upavon and is also planning to launch an archery club.

Mel explains: “We feel it’s important to mix because we’ll probably want to settle [here]. Getting to know the locals will make that easier. The Army does a great job of providing services but there is an equally fun and rewarding world outside your camp gates.”

Fi Walker, an Army wife from Middle Wallop, agrees that creating connections is key to a happy posting. When she grew concerned about the “disjointed relationship” between the military community and her children’s school, she volunteered to become an official liaison to help families like hers interact with teachers.

“I know some tend to stick on camp but for those who married into this life, integrating is a chance to become part of a civilian community again,” she says. “It widens your circle of friends and if you live away from family, local people will be there for you.”

Military Civilian Integration Teams

While integration brings many advantages, it’s important to remember the impact of a military presence on the civilian population. “Having a camp, large vehicles and troops running around is sometimes not easy for locals,” says Fi.

The Community Covenant was drawn up in 2011 to encourage a positive relationship between civvies and soldiers, by improving public awareness of issues affecting the Armed Forces and encouraging the serving population to help their wider community.

In line with Covenant aims, MCI teams work out of regional brigades to promote the military and address disadvantages for Army families. They support and inform local authorities on education, employment, housing, health and community schemes.

“Engaging with the community is not new; personnel have done this for years through homecoming parades and so on,” explains Dr Sarah Wareing, SO2(A) Civilian Engagement.

“We are asking to co-ordinate and be consistent in our requests for support from the authorities and communities in which we work and live.

“By understanding issues [like] mobility, civilian organisations can adapt their services accordingly.”

Hampshire County Council (HCC) was one of the first to sign the Covenant.

Today, HCC is running a veterans’ mentoring scheme, raising awareness of the experiences of Forces children in schools and improving opportunities for the area’s Nepali population.

Doug Gould, HCC’s Armed Forces Liaison Officer, says: “Our work improves understanding from both social groups on how the other lives. Forces families make a major contribution to Hampshire’s economy and quality of life; they are an integral part of [the] community.”

Mel agrees. “Soldiers and their spouses bring a valuable set of skills and experience that civilians do not have, and vice versa.”

A success story

In order to achieve successful integration between residents, planning and commitment is required from all involved.

Rutland County Council worked closely with welfare and regimental teams to minimise the impact of rebasing and promote healthy relationships between incoming and existing populations.

Visits to Cyprus and Germany familiarised families with their new home; advice was given on schools, housing and employment, along with a welcome pack and discount cards for amenities.

Following an in-barracks community sports festival, many serving personnel joined local teams.

Others volunteer as councillors, ensuring military interests are represented at county level.

Rutland’s employers have also been proactively recruiting soldiers’ dependants.   

Feedback has been hugely positive. “Our transformation could not have moved along any smoother.

“We in Kendrew Barracks truly feel ‘joined up’ and completely at home,” says Lt Col Lonnen.

Helen Briggs, Chief Executive of RCC, adds: “I have been proud of the way England’s smallest county embraced the challenges of rebasing and supported our Armed Forces to become part of the Rutland community.”

Benefits of belonging

Behind the wire, the way of life and the neighbours are comfortingly familiar.

But venturing beyond could be the start of something constructive and rewarding for military families and civvies alike.

Sarah says: “[Enabling] personnel and families to be more visible in the community can only be a good thing, to keep our profile high and our unique needs in the forefront of people’s minds.”

“Give it a go!” urges Fi. “To mix with a person who has no idea about life as a Forces family is very refreshing.

“Civilians are supportive and interested. I have amazing friends all over the country and their brief time in my life has created wonderful memories.”

How you can get involved

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